South Carolina statehouse grounds

Special session recap, what happens next?

As expected, the House last week passed its latest version of the next year’s state budget, which totals over $32 billion in combined tax revenues, fines and fees, and dollars received by the federal government. Lawmakers added plenty of new budget provisos (year-long directives) prior to its passage, including one creating a committee to study “environmental justice”, and another giving local governments permission to let residents drive golf carts during nighttime.  It is common practice by state lawmakers to use the budget to create policy not directly related to spending.  

The Senate, meanwhile, insisted on keeping its version of the budget, which is slightly less than that of the House ($31.8 billion). Accordingly, a conference committee has been appointed to reach an agreement between the two bills, which meets Tuesday (watch the stream here). Regardless of which version is passed by the committee, the budget is on track to be the largest in state history.  

Lawmakers also passed a bill making a number of changes to state-owned Santee Cooper, leaving no process in place to sell the utility in the future. Most significantly, the bill (not signed by the governor as of 6/14/21) puts lawmakers in charge of overseeing Santee Cooper’s financial statements, and would require legislative approval before it can issue new debt. It’s worth noting that a panel of lawmakers already supervise South Carolina’s utility regulating body (the Public Service Commission), and gave its members positive reviews as the commission approved rate hikes to finance the now-failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.  

A special transportation committee also met last week to look at how the state collects revenue from drivers in order to fund road projects. Among other things, there was discussion about raising/creating new fees to make up for shrinking revenue as vehicles become more fuel efficient (or even fuel independent in the case of electric vehicles). While still early, the meeting suggests this issue could be a legislative priority in the future.  

The full S.C. Legislature does not return until next Monday, June 21, where its main priority will be passing the state budget pending action by the bill’s conference committee.